Travel

Air Miles – How Much Do You Really Need to Get a Free Trip?

air miles calculator

Joanne Poh

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After hearing about a certain someone’s $23,000 first class ticket to New York, lots of Singaporeans are suddenly becoming interested in collecting frequent flyer miles.

All the times I’ve booked flights using my frequent flyer miles, something has happened to deflate the experience. Once I booked a trip to Hong Kong only to discover that the taxes and fees cost more than a budget airline ticket. Great.

So how hard is it really to get a free flight that’s actually worth the effort? We break it down for you.

How do you earn miles?

Flights – The most obvious way to earn miles is to take flights on eligible airlines. Let’s take Singapore Airline’s KrisFlyer programme for example. Because it’s part of the Star Alliance, flights on Star Alliance partner airlines (Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, Thai Airways, United Airlines, Air China, to name a few) are eligible for air miles.

This is not as simple as it sounds, though. Sale fares are often not eligible for air miles, so that dirt cheap flight you found online is going to get rejected. In addition, you get far more air miles for Singapore Airlines flights. Which, as you know, are also some of the most expensive flights in town.

Hotels, car rental, etc – Each airline’s frequent flyer programme usually lets you earn miles by patronising certain hotels and other service providers like car rental companies. While this might sound like a good deal, it’s unlikely they’re going to let you earn points on Hotel 81 or some party hostel full of drunk backpackers, so unless you’re going to be staying at a brand name luxury hotel, forget about this option.

Credit cards – The final option, and one that regular people actually use, is to get a credit card that lets you accrue miles as you spend. Check out these tips elsewhere on MoneySmart on how to choose a credit card for accumulation of air miles.

Check out MoneySmart’s credit card guide to find the credit card that will let you chock up the most air miles.

Where can you go?

While most airlines have their own frequent flyer programmes, Singapore Airline’s KrisFlyer programme is the most practical choice for people based here. Not out of patriotism but because the airline operates the most flights originating in Singapore.

On the other hand, redeem a flight to Kuala Lumpur on Timbuktu Airlines and you will find yourself spending 500,000 air miles because the plane has to fly to Timbuktu first.

Below are the costs in air miles of a one-way economy ticket. For return tickets, multiply by two.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei 7,500 Australia (excluding Perth and Darwin) and New Zealand 25,000
Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia 12,500 Africa, Middle East and Turkey 25,000
South China, Hong Kong and Taiwan 15,000 Amsterdam, Athens, Copenhagen, Rome 35,000
Beijing and Shanghai 20,000 Barcelona, Frankfurt, London, Manchester, Milan, Moscow, Munich, Paris, Zurich 35,000
India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh 18,500 USA West Coast 35,000
Japan and Korea 22,500 USA East Coast and Houston 37,500
Perth and Darwin 20,000 Sao Paolo 41,000

How much do you need to spend?

Here are some of the conversion rates for credit cards in Singapore, provided you meet all the terms and conditions like minimum spending and so on. We’ve worked out how much you need to spend to get 25,000 miles, which can get you a one-way ticket to Sydney or Melbourne or a return ticket to Thailand.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ve left out sign-up bonuses as you never know when those may stop. And also, they don’t apply to existing customers.

airmiles

Note: Some banks like UOB and Citibank also offer bonuses upon annual renewal so be sure to enquire about that. This table was calculated purely based on miles accrual.

 

Which destinations are the most worthwhile?

As mentioned earlier, 25,000 miles can get you a return ticket to Thailand or a one-way ticket to Melbourne or Sydney.

Anyone who’s spent any time desperately refreshing the screen on budget airline websites will know that return tickets to Thailand are usually cheaper than one-way tickets to Australia.

Here are some tips for making the most of your hard-earned air miles.

Southeast Asian destinations available on budget airlines are not worth it:

To redeem a flight using your KrisFlyer points, you will be charged upwards of US$80 (S$102). This is more expensive than the cost of an entire return ticket to Bangkok. Low budget airline prices and short flight times make nearby destinations like Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam a waste of air miles.

The further the destination, the better:

In general, the further the destination, the better value you’re getting for your air miles. For instance, a Singapore Airlines flight to New York easily costs more than twice the price of a flight to Shanghai. However, only 60% more air miles are needed to redeem a flight to New York.

Never redeem a one-way ticket to destinations not served by budget airlines:

One way tickets are usually disproportionately expensive on non-budget airlines. If you’re flying to a destination that is not served by budget airlines, you should try to save up enough air miles to get a return ticket, or else buying a one-way ticket for one leg of the journey is going to cost you up to 80% the cost of a return ticket.

It’s okay to redeem a one-way ticket to destinations more than 5 hours away and served by budget airlines:

These days, you can fly budget airlines to destinations that are more than 5 hours away. Osaka, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland are some examples. If you don’t have enough air miles to redeem a return ticket, these are a fairly good choice because getting a one-way ticket on a budget airline to cover one leg of your journey is going to be 50% the price of a return ticket, fair and square. Also, because one-way tickets to such destinations are normally at least $400, you’ll benefit quite a bit despite the amount you’ll be forced to pay to Singapore Airlines in taxes, surcharges and fees.

Choose the most expensive destination in each tier:

A one way ticket to Beijing or Shanghai costs 20,000 miles. However, flights to Beijing are generally more expensive than flights to Shanghai, so you get more value by redeeming flights to Beijing.

If you have enough miles, it’s worthwhile purchasing separate flights to multiple destinations:

As much as you might want to embark on an epic road trip from New York to LA, flying in to one destination and out from another costs way more than a return ticket to a single destination. Using your miles to redeem two separate tickets gives you bang for your buck, as it will cost you the same in miles as a return ticket.

Do you jetsetters have any other tips for us? Let us know in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.